Firing Rumsfeld a Viable Option

Rangel has introduced impeachment measure; Rummy likely to bow out first

Rep. Charles Rangel, a Manhattan Democrat and veteran lawmaker, has introduced eight articles of impeachment against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rangel, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, is outraged over the prisoner abuse scandal that has rocked the Pentagon and created an international dilemma for the United States.

“I think this rises to the point that it’s a high crime and misdemeanor if he disappointed the president, kept information from the Congress and kept this information from the American people,” said Rangel on the House floor last week.

Among the prospective charges against Rumsfeld in Rangel’s impeachment measure is that the Pentagon chief “contributed to an atmosphere of lawlessness” that permitted the abuses to take place.

Last Thursday, May 6, Pres. George W. Bush said that Rumsfeld “will stay in my cabinet.” The White House, however, did reportedly leak to the press that earlier last week, at a social function at the home of Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, Bush privately dressed down Rumsfeld for not informing him that such widespread abuse had occurred at Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad and elsewhere throughout Iraq among the tens of thousands of detainees that have been held by U.S. forces since the invasion. Not until “Sixty Minutes II” televised them did Bush reportedly view the photographs that have circulated around the globe showing American military police torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners and in some cases, smiling and giving a thumb up as they did so.

The Constitution provides for the removal from office of members of the executive branch, including appointed officials such as cabinet secretaries, in the same manner in which presidents have been impeached, namely the House of Representatives impeaches and the Senate convicts or acquits. “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” states Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

The phrase popularized by former Sen. Howard Baker during the Watergate crisis—“What did the president know and when did he know it?”—is now being mentioned on Capitol Hill regarding Rumsfeld’s involvement during the chronology of events that led to the release of the damaging photos and how and when Rumsfeld first addressed the crisis.

Army Maj. Gen Antonio M. Taguba was sent to Iraq this past January to inspect Iraqi detention facilities, including Abu Ghraib. Upon his return, Taguba authored a scathing report in which he mentioned, among other abuses, Iraqi male detainees being forced to simulate sex acts with each other as American prison personnel photographed them.

On May 12, a group of lawmakers viewed hundreds of photographs that Pentagon officials displayed for the lawmakers in a secure room on the Capitol. Several senators, including Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, spoke to the press upon leaving the room and many appeared shaken and shocked by what they had seen.

“There were some awful scenes. It felt like you were descending into one of the wings of hell and sadly it was our creation,” said Durbin, as reported by Reuters. “I still cannot believe that this happened without the knowledge of those at higher levels.”

Many of the pictures reportedly contain images of a graphic sexual nature, including the sexual abuse of women and incidents of forced sodomy, including one man being ordered to penetrate himself with a banana.

Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that the pictures showed “cruel and sadistic torture,” according to Reuters. She described images of one nearly naked man, “handcuffed to a wall, beating his head against the wall, recoiling back and forward, probably trying to knock himself unconscious and avoid having to live through that experience.”

Various lawmakers in the House and Senate, including members of the Armed Services Committees, refused to comment on Rangel’s effort to impeach Rumsfeld. In a Republican-led House that often votes in accordance with the White House, it is unlikely that Rumsfeld would be impeached. The secretary would most likely resign before enduring such an arduous process, anyway. Rumsfeld has publicly stated that he would resign if his presence at the Pentagon hampered the administration’s ability to prosecute the war or if his stewardship of the military impacted negatively on combat readiness. However, with less than two months before the official handover of sovereignty to Iraqi officials and the ongoing insurgency waged against American forces in Karbala, Najaf and elsewhere, Rumsfeld might need to step down in order to quell the growing international and domestic outcry over the prison abuse scandal.

Iraqi insurgents who decapitated Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American businessman who disappeared in Iraq in April after being released from an Iraqi prison, cited the prison abuse scandal as the reason for the Pennsylvanian’s murder.

Should such an atrocity be visited upon an American soldier captured while on patrol, the calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation will be deafening.

Whether or not Rumsfeld suppressed knowledge of the scandal when it first came to light will most likely be the subject of a congressional investigation. With six months to go before a general election, damaging revelations uncovered during such an investigation are not the kind of “October Surprise” White House political operatives would like to face.

Republican representatives derided Rangel’s attempt to sack Rumsfeld, criticizing the New York Democrat of politicizing the prison abuse scandal during a time when American troops are in harm’s way.

Other Democrats, including the House’s minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, have also demanded Rumseld’s resignation. Ultimately, as federal lawmakers wrestle over how to handle the scandal, Rumsfeld’s fate will be decided.

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